70-year-old man is beating the odds, living with Cystic Fibrosis

ST. LOUIS (KTVI) - Cystic Fibrosis is often called a childhood disease. But with a growing number of new treatments, therapies and medications, many CF patients are living much longer than patients ten or twenty years ago. Including Gary Anderson, who is a living example of longevity.

Anderson recently turned 70-years-old which is almost unheard for a Cystic Fibrosis patient.  Dr. Ravi Nayak, SLUCARE Pulmonologist and doctor at SSM Health SLU Hospital says "Gary is our 2nd patient to cross age 70."

Gary wasn’t diagnosed until he reached his 30`s.  He has a milder form of the disease, so he had fewer symptoms as a child, leading to his diagnosis much later than normal.

Gary says, "I think by then they were in shock.  it’s like you`re not supposed to be this old and have CF."

In the nearly 40 years since Gary`s diagnosis, researchers have developed new drugs to fight the disease.  And treatments that shake the body have improved the lives of CF patients.

Cystic Fibrosis is a genetic disease that typically affects the lungs, pancreas, liver and intestines; and involves a thick mucus build up in organs and glands, affecting the digestive system and decreasing lung function.   The VEST treatment helps to loosen the thick mucus in the lungs to help breathing and prevent infections.

Dr. Nayak says, "Gary takes good care of himself, in the sense, he comes here for every clinic visit, he does take care of his airway clearance measures, when he is sick, he is very diligent about calling us so that we intervene with the proper antibiotic.  Gary also has an upbeat attitude, very pleasant.

Gary says, "I never did have anger.  I don`t know that it was why I didn`t have it.  the fact that I found out that I had CF, made it more real."   But Gary`s wife, Beth, admits the diagnosis did affect her.  She says, "I did have a preacher once say to me, your angry at God, and I guess I was.  I always thought God put Gary in my life, and if that made sense, then logically, that meant God was taking Gary away.  It`s been 33 years, it's hard to believe.  I`ve had him a long time.  I gave him back to God and God gave him back to me for a very long time.  I call him my 'miracle man.'"

Dr. Nayak says he's hopeful and optimistic many more CF patients will live to be 70.  He says he believes one day CF will become a 'geriatric' disease and will be like any other chronic disease we know of, like diabetes.